When to call the vet: colic, wounds and lameness
Colic refers to any abdominal pain. Signs include looking at the flank, pawing, stretching, posturing to urinate, lying down and/or rolling. Call your veterinarian immediately if colic signs persist for greater than 15-30 minutes, if the signs are severe (rolling), or if the colic doesn't improve with walking.
You should also call if your horse doesn't seem to be passing enough manure (normal is greater than 3 piles/day) or is passing small dry fecal balls or has diarrhea. It is also important if your horse isn't eating normally or if the horse got into the grain bin or sack and ate more than usual. While you wait, keep walking the horse (helps the discomfort and helps pass manure), remove feed so it doesn't make any blockage worse, and monitor any vital signs you know (heart rate, mucous membrane color).
Wounds are common in horses and most are readily treated and don't lead to lasting problems. However, some wounds can be life threatening, particularly if they lead to severe blood loss or cause infection of a joint or other deep structure. Call your veterinarian immediately if the wound:
- goes deeper than the skin and/or bleeds heavily,
- exudes clear sticky fluid,
- is over a structure that bends (regardless of size),
- is on the back side of a limb below the knee or hock (important structures),
- is in the frog, over the chest or abdomen, or involves the penis or prepuce.
If a nail is penetrating the limb or foot, check with your veterinarian before pulling it out. Size doesn't matter; puncture wounds can be the most dangerous. While you wait, clean any contaminated wounds with tap water, cover with clean dry bandage (diapers can be very helpful if you don't have regular bandage material), and check to see when your horse last had a tetanus booster.
Lameness is another common problem and can be resolved with minimal treatment. However, sometimes lameness can indicate a complete/incomplete fracture, severe damage to a tendon, or other injury that will rapidly get worse if not treated appropriately. Call your veterinarian immediately if your horse doesn't use the limb at all, toe touches with the limb, is lame at a walk, the leg moves abnormally (complete fracture), the horse won't stand on one leg while you pick up the other, and/or almost falls when walking. Remember, even mild lamenesses often respond best when treated early.